After Saturday night's 106-86 embarrassment at the hands of the Utah Jazz, the New Orleans Hornets (33-38, 9.5 games behind Portland for the final playoff spot) have basically established themselves as a lottery team.
This is a GOOD thing, assuming the same scouting and front office team that thought highly enough of Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in last year's draft is still intact this year.
GM Jeff Bower has also made notions about the return of Chris Paul in the coming week, but has also hinted that nothing has yet to be set in stone.
I hope Bower is thinking what I'm thinking.
With 11 games left to go in an essentially lost season, bringing back Paul will (I assume) be worth at least two-to-three extra wins. Do we really need those extra wins?
At this point, no.
Certainly don't rush the man back. If anything, insert him into the lineup for the final home game of the season, so fans can see him on the court, and remember how much he actually means to this franchise.
Conversely, if Paul plays the next 7-to-10 games, he could actually have a negative effect on the team's future, and the amount of ping-pong balls the Hornets will own in the NBA Draft Lottery this year.
This current Hornets squad is a team in limbo. A mish-mash of overpaid vets (Emeka Okafor, Morris Peterson, Peja Stojakovic), young, raw talent (Collison, Thornton, Julian Wright), underpaid, under-appreciated stars (David West), and virtually no bench to speak of.
They gel together like a jigsaw puzzle gone horribly wrong, and nearly all their weaknesses have been exposed without Paul around to cover them up.
But what the Hornets lack in trade chips, they'll hopefully make up for this May with those aforementioned ping-pong balls.
If the Hornets want to get better in 2011, and more importantly keep Paul happy, they're going to have to do it through the draft.
Being the draft junkie that I am, I couldn't stay away Chad Ford's NBA Lottery Mock Draft Machine (Chad Ford is an evil man).
Ford currently ranks the top 14 likely NBA prospects as follows:
1. John Wall - Kentucky
2. Evan Turner - Ohio St.
3. Derrick Favors - Georgia Tech
4. DeMarcus Cousins - Kentucky
5. Wes (formerly Wesley) Johnson - Syracuse
6. Ed Davis - UNC
7. Al-Farouq Aminu - Wake Forest
8. Cole Aldrich - Kansas
9. Hassan Whiteside - Marshall
10. Greg Monroe - Georgetown
11. Donatas Montiejunas - Lithuania
12. Patrick Patterson - Kentucky
13. Stanley Robinson - UCONN
14. Avery Bradley - Texas
It seems this lottery will fairly front-court loaded, with only four players (Wall, Turner, Johnson, and Bradley) under 6'9". That, and Kentucky apparently has three surefire NBA-ready players on their team, which kind of makes me re-think picking Duke to win the NCAA Tournament this year.
But I digress.
After nearly 20 clicks on the "Play Lottery" button, praying to the draft gods that the Hornets somehow defy the odds and reach Wall/Turner territory, Mr. Ford's machine generated the same reality over and over again.
12th pick. Stanley Robinson.
Not bad if New Orleans has plans to move David West, which is certainly not the team's first option I'm sure. The 6'9'' Robinson is skilled, yes, and he can also play a big 3 - which would be great with Thornton at the 2.
Best case scenario IMO? Monroe falls to 12. Not only would this do wonders in shoring up the whole Okafor, Darius Songalia, Aaron Gray mess, but it would also make Okafor much more expendable as a trade chip, or provide him with a more competent backup should he stay in creole blue.
The draft will be here before we know it, and I can already hear Jay Bilas talking about "length," "ceiling," and "upside" in my dreams.
Thoughts and comments about what YOU think New Orleans should do are more than welcome.
Matt is also a contributor at Rotowire.com and Mockdraftcentral.com, you can view more of his rankings and analysis here.